Dangers of Technology: Sexual predators targeting kids on online

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by Gene Kang

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 17, 2009 at 7:20 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 21 at 11:06 AM

Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) - All parents should pay attention.  Detectives say sexual predators are hiding online trying to target kids on social networking sites.

It's a growing problem that is completely under-reported to police every year.

WHAS11 News looked into how schools are battling the issue and why kids are keeping secrets.

"There are kidnappers that will attack younger kids, middle school kids, high school kids and college kids," Lisa Kimball with the Child Connection warns students at Notre Dame Academy.

Lisa Kimball tells it like it is with a bold in-your-face approach to help students protect themselves from predators.

"How many children have computers in their house where they can see it?" asks Kimball.

By a show of hands, nearly 200 junior high kids at Notre Dame Academy have access to the internet at home.

Some lie about their age, even sneaking off to create secret MySpace and Facebook pages.

You have to be 13 or older to register on MySpace.

Many times, kids do it by changing their age without parent supervision.

Consider this; MySpace removed 90,000 registered sex offenders from their site in February.

Right here in Louisville, the Crimes Against Children unit busted 14 sexual predators through an internet sting called Operation Bulldog.

However, LMPD says there is possibly hundreds more lurking on the internet.

In Kentucky and Indiana combined, nearly 2.5 million kids are under 18.

That’s roughly a quarter of the population and LMPD says each can be a target.

Predators appeal to kids with compliments and sweet words using a process called "grooming" where they attempt to gain trust and friendship through emotional bonds while hiding behind a computer screen.

The Crimes Against Children Unit works several dozen cases a year with possibly hundreds never being reported.

"Nine out of ten cases that occur online when kids are victimized, nine out of ten are never reported," says Detective Dan Jackman with the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit.

"For every one person you see us lock up, they've victimized on average 150 kids," he says.

In reality, experts say 80,000 child sexual abuse cases are reported every year in the U.S. with un-reported cases far greater.

How does that happen?

WHAS11’s Gene Kang asked some young teens at Notre Dame Academy directly.

They stayed quiet for fear of being punished by parents.

"Probably not letting me go out with my friends and taking away my cell phone," says one student.

That lack of communication is a problem in itself.

"Maybe you're the target that they want. So, you're not necessarily keeping yourselves safe," Kimball tells students.

After talking to four students for a while, Hailey revealed a secret never told to any adult.

She was approached on MySpace by an older man.

“He was just wondering where I lived and I told him I wasn't going to tell him. He just signed off," says Hailey.

Hailey never told her own parents she even had a MySpace page making it just another case that was never reported to authorities.

"One virtue that predators have is the virtue of patience. They will take all the time they need to get to know their would-be victim and the habits of that family," says Kimball.

Lt. Dreher and Detective Jackman warn parents should double-check their child's page.

"Do not include identifiers such as your street name, your house address, car license plate numbers in the background.  Stay away from clothing with your school logos, backpacks with your school logos, anything that identifies if your kid is involved in some organization such as Boy Scouts of Girl Scouts," says Lt. Dreher.

Detectives say there is a local LMPD program where you can connect your kid's Facebook or MySpace page to theirs.

Not only is this mean befriending a trusted source, but also creating police protection right on the internet.

"It's turned out to be one heck of a deterrent," says Det. Jackman.

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